Low Bar/High Bar

We spent last week with Mike Breen and the team from 3D Ministries strategizing the launch of our missional communities.  For the last year, we’ve been working at laying the leadership foundations in preparation for their launch.  The primary vehicle for that foundation is what we call the huddle.  I’ll attempt to break down what we’re doing into three sections. (1) How we’re making disciples. (2) A crucial mistake we made early on. (3) Why we are setting the bar very, very low.

How we’re making disciples.

Everyone knows we are supposed to make disciples, but no one knows how to do it.  It’s the open secret of the evangelical world. Dallas Willard gets close in his ‘Curriculum for Christlikeness’ (if you are serious about making disciples, put everything down and go read his trilogy: The Spirit of the Disciplines, The Divine Conspiracy, and Renovation of the Heart.  It’s essential reading on the subject), but even there it stops just shy of being hands-on-do-this-and-then-this-and-then-that practical.  Here’s why I think most attempts fall short.

I can’t count the numbers of times I’ve heard (and said) “We need to make disciples.”  I can count the number of times I’ve heard talk about the vehicle for doing it.  At the risk of massive over-generalization, we all seem to think discipleship equals some mix of theology, Bible knowledge, prayer, attendance at the things we put on (face it, we all think the way we do it is the ‘right’ way), giving money (again, to whatever it is we are leading) and whatever ‘factor x’ it is that your movement/denomination pushes as their distinctive.

I’m not saying those things don’t matter, I’m just aware that whatever mix I’d been using didn’t actually work. As I look back at my efforts, I have to honestly say that any fruit that’s come has been by accident.  Of course I know theologically that fruit is the gift of the Holy Spirit, but I’d argue that the Holy Spirit has had to do his work in spite of me, not because of me.  Perhaps you can relate.

It seems overly simple to say it, but I’ve begun to do what Jesus did.  Me plus six guys (I’m pretty sure my discipling competence does not equal that of our risen Lord) meeting every week to discuss how we live our lives in terms of the Kingdom of God.  Specifically, we are learning a shared language about what it means to follow Jesus.  I’ve never seen this kind of fruit before. Never.  The massive challenge I gave to them at the start was two-fold: (1) Be committed to this. (2) You’ll do this for a few others.  Our next round of huddles starts in short order.

A crucial mistake we made early on.

An army has two types of soldiers: Special Forces and foot soldiers. The Green Berets/Army Army Rangers/Navy Seals are the guys who get the incredibly difficult mission done regardless the cost.  They may break a leg, get shot 5 times, lose an eyeball, have a foot blown off…but they will get the mission done.  No price is too great.  The foot soldiers, while brave, go to the infirmary for a headache (I’m stereotyping, I know).  They’ll get it done eventually, but if the price is high, you’d better send in the special forces.

Guess which soldier is featured in documentaries on the National Geographic channel?  Guess who everyone fears in a bar fight? Guess which ones we lift up as the “real” heroes? While I’m overstating the case a bit, there are corollaries.  We set the bar so high for mission that only the ‘Green Berets’ sign up.  For us, that means only the people who want to go rescue the strippers from their life in the sex trade that is East St Louis are welcome.  Those are the people I want to have lunch with, encourage, pour into, listen to, beat on the shoulders, etc.  Can you relate? But here’s what I’ve learned: It’s a mistake.

One of the reasons we couldn’t get the first wave of missional communities off the ground was because I was describing something only Green Berets could do.  I thought in setting the bar high, I’d raise the tide in the harbor for all the ships. Nada. In fact, I got the exact opposite.  Blank stares.  Shuffling feet. Throat clearing. Me perplexed and slightly judgmental in my spirit.

Why we are setting the bar very, very low.

Here’s what Jesus does:  The bar is very, very high to be a disciple.  Follow me.  Let the dead bury their own dead.  Hate your mom and dad.  Take up your cross and die.  I would counts those as considerable bar-raising challenges.  And of course there is a commensurate invitation. My yoke is easy.  Take heart, I’ve overcome the world.  I am with you always. Your father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.

But then, after this ridiculous bar-raising exercise called the invitation to discipleship, Jesus lowers the bar. In Luke 9-10, Jesus essentially says this: ‘Go out and find some people you like.  Make sure they like you too.  If they do, stay with them, hang out with them and help them understand my kingdom.  If you can’t find anyone who likes you, leave.’  Excuse me?  Seriously? This is right where Mike pushed my buttons last week. Set the bar incredibly high for discipleship (with a commensurately high level of invitation) and set the bar incredibly low for mission.  Mission must be doable by the foot soldiers or the army never wins the battle.

I’m still working out what that means, but I’ve changed my language in talking to people (even the guys in my huddle) about what missional communities are.  I’m no longer saying  “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” as my lead-in descriptor of what Missional Communities do.  Instead, I’m saying that Missional Communities are like a big, warm extended family that serves together.

I’m learning.

4 thoughts on “Low Bar/High Bar

  1. “Make sure they like you too… if you can’t find anyone who likes you, leave” I am in the middle of a huge fight over my existing church. One of you 3dm people is trying to plant huddles in what was a friendly, loving, service-oriented church. Now, we’re spending all our energy fighting him and his huge ego instead of focusing on outreach. What he doesn’t get is that only about 50 people out of 250 like him… about 5 families. I wish he were reading this blog right now instead of me. I wish he would leave. What do you tell each other when the tide turns against you? What does it take to get one of you people to leave?

    1. Sounds like some real challenges going on there.
      Couple thoughts:
      1 – Are you the leader? If so, you can ask him–after honest, loving dialogue seeking to redeem the situation–to leave. Problem solved.
      2 – Is he? Then maybe God is bringing a “new thing” (per the prophet Isaiah) and the resistance is more about letting go of the past and embracing the future God is bringing you into. Change is always hard. If he is the leader, then pray for him. Talk honestly with him. Support him publicly. Love him. God will honor that. If there is back-biting and gossip about his leadership behind his back, then listen to the counsel of the Apostle Paul: watch out, or you will be destroyed by one another.
      3 – I think you might be misunderstanding the “….if anyone likes you, leave” comment. Jesus’ example of using the Person of Peace strategy (Luke 9-10) is that if we find NO one who is a person of peace, we move on. Sounds like he’s found 50 people and is doing what Jesus said to do.
      4 – What a tremendous opportunity this is! God is helping all of you to rely on him, listen to him and learn from him for the future. This is what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t know your situation in the least, but it sounds like that’s what God is up to. Embrace it! In the words of a Jewish thinker (Martin Buber, I believe), be open to the unbidden.
      5 – Making disciples (huddles) is what Jesus did. I’d have a rough time saying a follower of Jesus should stop doing what Jesus said to do in the way Jesus said to do it. Is there the chance that his huge ego is your perception of what the change is doing to the way your church has functioned for the last little while and that the change is unsettling to you personally? As TS Eliot said, humanity can only bear so much reality. Are you willing to consider that might be the true reality?
      6 – One last completely counter-intuitive option: Stop fighting him and follow his example. Take the high challenge from Jesus to every single one of his followers to make disciples. That is a challenge for you! Straight from the lips of Jesus! I say this because I don’t see your reason for opposition. Disciples serve…so what’s the hurt in learning a reproducible model that makes more disciples who serve? If your church really is the good thing you say it is, why wouldn’t you want more people to experience it??
      I’ll pray for kingdom breakthrough in your church!

  2. John 15:15
    1 Corinthians 13:1-8
    1 John 4

    He (the pastor) doesn’t visit our elderly and shut ins. He doesn’t work with our preschool children. He punishes those who disagree with his vision by removing them from leadership. He publicly condemns those who speak against his vision.

    Our church was making disciples the right way before-IN LOVE. We serve the Lord- not the Leader.

    1. Change is hard, I know. And I can hear your emotion about the changes. Painful to be sure. I wouldn’t doubt that you are at a real defining moment for your church where you are both having a hard time hearing each other. Since you can only control yourself, would you be willing to be a Christ-like leader and choose to respond with patience and grace to what you don’t like? Jesus’ example is that he absorbs the hurt and the pain. This is one of the implications of the atonement. Jesus not only died for us, but set an example for us about what to do when a situation needs atoning.

      A couple more thoughts on your difficult situation:
      1 – It sounds like you might be a feeler and he might be a thinker (in other words, you FEEL the pain of the change, he THINKS the pain of the change. Neither is right, both just are responses.) Could you take a Christ-like direction in your response to him and allow that maybe he’s simply processing this different than you?
      2 – It also sounds like you have some expectations of what the pastor does that he doesn’t share. Having grown up in the church (son of missionary/pastor) I know that the expectation for a long time has been that the pastor is the caretaker of the flock. And that would be right, a person with pastoral gifting (Ephesians 4) IS meant to care for the flock. That does not necessarily mean that the person leading the church with the TITLE “Pastor” does, in fact, have shepherding gifts (I am the leader of my church and do not have that gift!). For the last 50-75 years, we’ve had an unfortunate misunderstanding in the church that THE pastor is also supposed to do all the PASTORING. This has no warrant in Scripture. The strongest New Testament metaphor for the church is the Body of Christ–implying we ALL have a part to play. So to each of your frustrations I would offer this:
      a. Is someone in the church who loves and cares visiting the elderly and sick? Yes? Then the Body of Christ is doing its job. If the person with the title “Pastor” has to do all that, you’ve just limited what can be done by the Church to an unBiblical proportion.
      b. Is someone in the church who loves kids working with the preschool children? Yes? Then the Body of Christ is doing its job. Some people aren’t good with kids and therefore shouldn’t work with them! They suffer, and more importantly, the kids suffer.
      c. He punishes those who disagree by removing. So God has called him here (do you believe God called him there? Wrestle with that!) and he’s trying to do what Jesus did–make disciples and is meeting significant resistance. If he DOESN’T make changes, then he is not leading! Do you want a leader who doesn’t lead? Often, very often, good people in churches resist those kinds of changes because the change means they no longer have power and control. And its not even a motive thing. They all of sudden find themselves disoriented because they no longer have the control they once had. Again, this is an opportunity to learn from Jesus. Seize it!
      d. Not sure what “publicly condemns” means. That’s a loaded and subjective statement. From his perspective, he’s likely talking about a new direction and having the guts to call out recalcitrance. Not saying he’s right, just offering a different perspective.

      You are right, you serve the Lord, not the leader. Now, because you said that, you’re responsibility based on your Lord’s words in Matthew 18 is to schedule an appointment with him immediately, not talk to another soul to gripe or complain and lay out your concerns in a loving way then listen carefully to what he has to say. And now let me say this strongly to challenge you: If you don’t do that, you have made an idol out of your emotions and have made them your lord.

      Because I serve the same Lord, I won’t be entertaining anymore comments about his leadership.

      This is a MASSIVE opportunity your Lord is giving you to learn from Him, rely on Him, hear Him in a new, fresh way and your heart and soul revived. Seize it! Don’t miss it! Are you bold enough to seize it?

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